I’ll admit that when I first tried yoga, I wasn’t doing it to look cool or be healthier or even the whole ‘keep calm and insert-pun-here’ thing that’s popular these days. No, I started yoga because I wanted a hot body. Between my weight training and my 60 mile weekend cycling journeys, I wanted an exercise that would lengthen out my muscles and give me that sleek, toned look gracing the cover of every women’s magazine.
While my intentions were at first superficial, a year later and my initial goal of a perfect yoga body doesn’t even phase me. Sure, I’m stronger, I have better balance, and my flexibility has improved. But my yoga instructor said in one of my first classes, “Yoga is not an exercise. Yoga is a moving meditation.” It was through these words—this idea that yoga is something beyond an exercise—that lead to the physical, mental, and emotional gains I’ve made.
1. Physically: I don’t just look strong, I feel strong.
I envy the people that make yoga look easy. On the contrary, yoga takes incredible strength, balance, and flexibility. At first, a lot of the postures were really difficult for me. But over the weeks and months of falling over and making a fool of myself, I grew more comfortable with the movements. My strong background in exercise and fitness actually helped me a lot, and (not to brag) before I knew it I was doing some of the most advanced postures that involved incredible form and diligence.
But the physical strength was only half of it. When you master a head-stand or a bird of paradise, you don’t just look strong, you feel strong. And that strength remains with you even when you leave the yoga studio. Suddenly, problems that had daunted me for months or even years seemed like a piece of cake. I realized that as a strong, capable woman, I didn’t need to subject myself to an abusive relationship. I didn’t need to let a cancer diagnosis occlude me from moving forward with my education and career. At first, my strength manifested itself in planks and pushups. But over time, that strength developed into courage and insight.
2. Mentally: Patience and tolerance are true virtues.
I always thought that I was a pretty patient and tolerant person. It wasn’t until I started practicing yoga that I finally understood what those qualities are. In a society fraught with abundance and advancement, we’ve surprisingly become mean, cruel and intolerant. We don’t second guess cutting someone off in traffic to save five minutes on running an errand. Stories where children bully others literally to their death is not news, but almost common place.
Yoga helped me quiet the impulsive voices of impatience and intolerance that lead to these behaviors. Difficulty with certain postures and exercise sequences helped me learn to be at ease with my body, to not judge myself so harshly when I can’t quite accomplish what I want. I realized that my goals, whether in or out of the studio, will slowly happen over time and with hard work. And that same mindset has overflowed into other aspects of my life. I no longer feel compelled to always go, go, go. I am content simply with my state of being. Most important, I’ll get there when I get there, and I have no one to answer to but myself.
3. Emotionally: I am grateful to be grateful.
I almost can’t describe the feeling of elation that runs through my body as I leave the studio and walk to my car when class ends. Maybe it’s an exercise high, maybe it’s from the fresh blood rushing to my head. But through practicing, I now appreciate a clear blue sky even more or enjoy the warmth of the sun on my skin. The traffic jam that stressed me out on the way to class feels like a breeze. Instead of dwelling on sorrows or problems or all the things I want but don’t have, I find gratitude in what I do have—even the problems I have. As bad as I might have it, someone always has it worse, and I wouldn’t dare trade my predicaments with theirs. Call it optimism, call it seeing the glass half full, I am grateful to have realized this. I am grateful to be grateful.
So am I saying everyone should drop everything and start doing yoga? Not exactly. Yoga worked wonders for me, healing me in ways I never even imagined. I fell in love (with myself, that is). And through this love, I have transcended many of the obstacles I once thought were impregnable barriers in my life. Is yoga a cure all? Absolutely not. I’d be quite a hypocritical and intolerant yogi if I said everyone has to practice—ultimately you should do what works for you. But what I can say is that there lies a profound importance in stepping back and enjoying the moment. It’s these small moments where true bliss really occurs and we gain perspective. And yoga is one way we can get more in tune with these feelings.
So, through the words of my yoga instructor, “Just breathe.”